Off The Derech On The Down Low

I’m your neighbor, your friend’s sister, your daughter-in-law, your daughter, your mother, your wife. Maybe I’m you. I’m willing to bet there’s a lot of us out there. You can’t tell by looking at us. Oh yes, we know how to play the game. We know how to dress, how to speak, where to shop, where to be seen. We are part of the chorus – we blend into a sea of other faces and wigs on stage – nothing noteworthy or conspicuous about us.

That’s right, it’s usually not the loud raging orthodox feminist, questioning everything from rabbis, to skirt lengths, to niddah, to hair covering, to women’s roles in Judaism who are secretly off the derech. See, the angry women are the ones who are still in it – they still care enough to get mad. That’s what they say, right? The other side of love isn’t hate- it’s apathy. When you just don’t care anymore – that’s when you know you’re done. That’s when I knew I was done.

At first I thought I had just snapped. I was so sick of the false piety and fawning over men lauded at dinners that eventually ended up in prison. I was sick of the “Real Housewives” cattiness of mothers in the PTA. I was tired of the shiurim trying to demonize feminism yet convince us that women really do have a special role to play that is highly valued and in line with our natural abilities and desires – babymaking and homemaking. I was tired of sitting in the back of the shul behind a barrier. I was tired of my vagina dictating when I could pass the car keys to my husband. I was tired. At first I was mad, but then I was just tired. So I stopped.

How did that go over, you ask? Like a fly in a china shop, it’s gone relatively unnoticed. That’s how I want it. Being part of the chorus enables me a freedom that playing a leading role wouldn’t. Oh sure, my husband noticed that I stopped going to shul, and is sometimes annoyed that I don’t attend all of the community dinners with him that I used to. However, he has his chevra at shul and I mainly infringed on his guy time at kiddish anyway. Also, he never really enjoyed the dinners, and without a wife to nag him into going, he doesn’t really mind skipping most of them. Spending time volunteering at our kid’s school was never something he cared about me doing one way or the other, so that’s been a non-issue.

The other stuff? I still keep kosher to my husband’s pretty meticulous standards. Nothing has changed in that department. I don’t really know if keeping kosher is a strong priority for me, but it’s not difficult to do it and I would never do anything to compromise the observance of my family, who are complete believers in the entire system. I haven’t eaten treif food, and I don’t have the desire to. Shabbos and yom tov are also kept to the fullest, as again, that is family time, and I have an obligation to preserve our home environment. If I ever found myself on my own, all the kids grown and out of the house and myself unmarried would I keep these things? Maybe not – or at least not around my children. However, I live in a houseful of Torah observant people, so that’s what I do at this point and time.

I still dress with tznius guidelines in mind, but push the boundaries in my wardrobe choices. Everything is technically kosher (shells, sleeves, skirts below the knee (not 4 inches, but still) – nothing in my wardrobe stands out as being flashy. Even so, I wear trendy items that I feel comfortable wearing – items that the Yeshivish or right wing modern orthodox crowd wouldn’t wear. My hair is covered by a topper wig that is a tiny bit of wig, but mostly my own hair blended in. Sometimes I wear hats with my ponytail out that people may or may not think is a wig, and I don’t correct them in thinking it’s fake hair. I’ve still maintained my friendships with other frum women, because I still look enough like they do not to raise too many alarms. I stopped covering my hair at home unless there is an unrelated male over 13 in the house, but I’ve been caught bare headed by unexpected visitors. Sometimes I don’t scramble to cover it. It’s my dang house!

I basically do as little as possible – because I honestly don’t believe in all of the tznius minutia that has been created by men and women and turned into law. Women are made to wear uncomfortable clothing that restricts movement in order to control our behavior and our ability to do various activities, and I don’t buy into that anymore. Living in a more modern community, as I do, it’s easier to get away with the things I describe.

As far as taharat hamishpacha – I’ve always hated the practice and feel it’s had a detrimental effect on my marriage. Finally, after many years of frequent mikvah trips, I made the decision to give myself a break. My husband would never stay married to me if I told him I wasn’t going to the mikvah anymore, and keeping my family together is my top priority. However, I was so miserable that I had to do something. He knows I’m miserable, yet still insists I keep going. I wasn’t going to lie to him about going when I hadn’t, so I did the only thing available to me – I started lying about not being able to do a bedika and spotting. In this way, even though we can’t be together or even share a hug, I can get a break every other month or so from going to the mikvah. Is he happy about this? No. But hey, it’s not my fault if my body isn’t cooperating, right?

So this is how I survive. If you ask me if I believe in Hashem, yes, I still do…but I don’t believe in people. I don’t believe in the Orthodox social construct that people are living today, and I don’t want to be a part of it. Unfortunately, I am a part of it….but I live on the outskirts…I am part of the chorus and there may be others mouthing the words back there along with me.

39 Comments

  1. A friend February 1, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    I hear you. I am basically in the same boat (though I push the envelope much more than what you are describing). But I *beg* you to be open with your husband. Living that kind of lie for the rest of your life is not sustainable. You will implode. You will need to be willing to compromise, as will he. But “mixed marriage” is possible. You might even get more support from him than you imagined.

    I wish you much strength and love. As you correctly surmised, you are not alone.

    Reply
    1. RGK February 21, 2017 at 7:38 am

      yes..I am going through same thing. I am glad that i am not alone. tired of being a fake for the sake of community (my kids needs to play with friends in neighborhood).

      Reply
    2. BAtman February 22, 2017 at 2:41 pm

      Must be tayva right? The only reason a frum person will give for others not acting strictly frum. It can’t be based on intellect or other valid reasons as such a thing (in their minds) cannot exist.

      Reply
  2. JD February 1, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear that the “frum” world is exhausting – really.

    As someone raised amongst apikorsim and became “frum” in thought and action in college, may I make a few suggestions if you’re interested in the idea of re-embracing the Torah life.
    1. Look down (I mean really look down) on “Rabbis” and “Jewish Leaders” that commit crimes. It’s judgemental, but cognitively, it may be an important step in not associating them with Gd’s essence. Of course, they’re yidden and a baal nefesh needs to separate their actions from their neshama. But we can’t let the frailty of being human (a gift of free will) blind us from seeing the gift itself, which was misused.
    2. Practically, Taharat Hamishpacha is very emotionally and physically difficult, as you know. If your husband (and perhaps rabbi) are okay with it, you may wish to consider implementing the pill for (much) longer than a month at a time.

    Wishing for you to feel the love during your spiritual journey…:)

    Reply
  3. In the MO Closet February 1, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Yup, right there with you although completely transparent with my spouse. Fortunately, he supports me 100% and I’m so, so lucky for our relationship. I made more radical choices like stopping to cover my hair completely and no longer going to the mikvah but other than that, I consider myself in the Modern Orthodox closet. It’s a daily struggle though, being true to myself while maintaining our current family values. It’s not easy, but I hope it’s some comfort to know that you are not alone.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous February 1, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    You and the rest of us, sister.
    We all have the same secret. It’s a shame we can’t talk about it.
    There would be a lot less lonely women if we did.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous February 1, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    You are not alone. Quite a few women confided in me how they don’t believe any more, and would observe no more, were it not for husband’s and children’s sake. I wonder how many more are out there…
    As an aside, it is perfectly within halacha not to cover your hair in your own house even in front of two unrelated males. You might also consider 3 month pill or iud to get that break from the mikvah.

    Reply
  6. Chaya February 1, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing and describing your experience so eloquently. Mine is very similar. I wish there could be some kind of support group for us. Even reading your article and the comments i still feel alone in this lifestyle. I think being able to talk to others in real life about this would be so helpful for those of us in this ‘double’ life. Maybe someday…

    Reply
    1. Becky February 1, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      Support group for all of us is so urgent! Why shud we all struggle alone in the same things. Who’s willing to join me to create one?

      Reply
      1. Joanna February 1, 2017 at 7:06 pm

        I think that’s a great idea. We can create it on reddit, since reddit is anonymous but still well organized. What she we call it? Maybe OTDsupport or secretOTD?

        Reply
      2. Joanna February 1, 2017 at 7:21 pm

        Ok, I just created a support group for this on reddit called secretOTD.

        Reply
        1. A friend February 2, 2017 at 2:29 pm

          The problem with the facebook group is that your friends can see that you are in it. So if you are still in the closet, it kinda giving yourself away.

          Reply
  7. Judith February 1, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Me too

    Reply
  8. YAM February 1, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    I feel your pain as my own. I am 100% with you on all the things you mention.

    Aside from that, it hurst me that there are some women suggesting you go on the pill to avoid keeping TH. Drugging yourself to make your body NOT do what it is supposed to do when is healthy, which is how H’ created it, is so far in my own personal view from what is right and what should be encouraged. This just shows how WRONG TH that women would go to such lengths as interfering with their natural biology and chemistry only to avoid TH. The obvious thing is to change the way we observe TH so that is not painful to women, not to encourage women to mess with their bodies to avoid TH.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous February 1, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    This article is very honest, brace and vulnerable. No one should be lonely and there is a community for people There is a support group for people who are within the Frum community and upholding Frum practices and/ or appearances to preserve the health of their marriages and families. Message me on Facebook and I’ll introduce you to the gentleman who runs it. He’s happily married and a lovely dad, living within and conforming to Frum life.

    Reply
  10. Anonymous male February 1, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Most of these comments seem to be authored by women. That makes a lot of sense to me, as there are numerous aspects of today’s ModOx Judaism that I as a man never had to deal with, that appear cumbersome and frustrating for women.

    I saw this article on FB, and just wanted to nod my head in anonymous agreement. I still go through the motions and ostensibly still do everything I’m supposed to do. Even when I’m away on business, alone, I don tefillin (if only for 2 minutes), usually keep a whole shabbos and I always keep kosher – maybe out of habit but I do it. I still lain and lead tefillot as a chazzan when asked to. My extended family, friends, and neighbors probably don’t suspect my heart’s not into it, but my wife caught on immediately. We talked about it and frankly it hasn’t affected our relationship one bit.

    While us men are generally thought to not be as attuned to these kinds of things, your husband may already have a hunch of what’s going on. Tell him exactly how you said it here: You’re willing to do the motions, but your heart isn’t into it… maybe you’ll reach a compromise.

    But lying to him about not being able to do a bedika, spotting, etc, just seems horribly toxic to your relationship. I truly feel bad for both you and him. I strongly encourage you to consider talking to him about it. Maybe he feels the exact same way – the extended niddah times may have worn down his resolve.

    And please take the comments about the 3-month pill with a grain of salt – both pro and con. I wouldn’t consider it “drugging” as it’s been shown to be generally both very safe and effective. And a quarterly break and mikvah trip is a lot more tolerable for both of you than monthly trips or your bi-monthly trips laced with lies and deceit. IMO. Being realistic here: Nobody is changing TH laws anytime soon, so either your observance of the laws will fade, or you will adapt within the confines of the accepted halacha. How you adapt is up to each individual.

    Reply
  11. anonymous February 2, 2017 at 2:52 am

    I’m with you. Only instead of lying about being unclean I just don’t declare myself niddah unless I’m gushing blood. It needed to be done as I’m on the IUD and always spotting. Speaking of, early on I made it clear that no rabbi will tell me when to have babies. And also on vacation I’ll wear bathing suits and whatever in public. Even though I keep most things I feel like the pressure of doing things perfect is off, and I can even enjoy the spiritual aspect more.

    Reply
  12. mg February 2, 2017 at 8:51 am

    I feel the same way in many respects . For me, it’s the “women in Judaism” question that wore me down. Halachah, Torah, Hashem have nothing to do with it- it’s just a naked power grab. After fully covering my hair for 19.5 years I stopped. I always hated it and relied on the trustworthiness of the Rabbis who said I had to. But then the trust was destroyed. I’ll never forget that feeling of going out for the first time in almost 20 years and feeling the delicious breeze going through my hair! As for TH, the pill is a great way to put it on hold- going to the mikvah every other month gives you a break of 1.5 months instead of two weeks. And, during that time you can be with your husband.

    Reply
  13. Karen Katz February 2, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    My story is very different

    I converted very sincerely to Judaism before my marriage and lived contentedly for a couple of decades. The problem was, that the more I actually learned theologically, the less I believed! this coincided with me looking the frummest I ever looked (sheitel, long skirts and all), and with the slow, gradual decline of my love for my husband. For a few more years I eked out an existence, partially by drinking a lot, but also because I loved a lot about the lifestyle (Shabbos, etc). Finally, after almost 3 decades of marriage, I told my husband the truth, that I didn’t love him anymore. After our divorce, I actually kept mitzvoth for almost 2 more years, but finally left Judaism pretty much behind, and don’t really miss it!

    I still live in my community, though I don’t participate much (occasional Shabbos meal with old friends) Most everybody knows, very few have dropped me completely. I think they just accept that as an older woman now, I live my life as I please. I stopped drinking almost 5 years ago.

    Live your truth….or don’t, it’s your life. Sometimes staying is fine, as long as you are not drinking or binging or doing anything else that is unhealthy. I would recommend being honest with your spouse, unless you don’t value your marriage.

    Best of everything to everyone. Peace.

    Reply
  14. Anonymous February 2, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Re: the questions about Taharat Hamishpacha on IUD and the pills- in terms of spotting- Try talking to a Yoetzet Halacha like Nishmat.net has.

    Reply
  15. Anonymous February 4, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    There is a 15 minutes medical procedure called an ablasion that will stop u from ever getting your period and will never render you in niddah. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. This is for you as long as your are done having kids. You will still need birth control and you will need to tell your insurance that you had spotting issues in order for it to be covered. But I highly recommend it.

    Reply
    1. zach February 24, 2017 at 8:34 am

      My wife wasn’t happy that her hysterectomy meant no more children, but is forever grateful that there is no more mikvah. Contrary to apologists (often men) that like to tout the “every month is like being a bride again” line, she didn’t know any women in the chareidi community that actually felt that way and – to the contrary – feel that the whole institution of niddah (especially the harchakos) is demeaning and emotionally destructive.

      Reply
  16. Marsha Landreth February 5, 2017 at 12:03 am

    I’ve never been orthodox but I was always observant. I kept kosher, had two sets of dishes, celebrated the holidays. I went to Services on Friday nights, took my children to religious school, observed the Sabbath.
    When I moved to Las Vegas, I did the same and taught the kindergarten class in religious school. I did all this until a cataclysmic event (to me) rendered, truly, the congregation in half. Over money. I then began to wander, looking for another spiritual home, without success. I occasionally now attend a service and find it nostalgic and comforting. I say
    kaddish for my loved ones who have passed.
    But now I find myself questioning the “rules”. And the ones that are so repressive to women? They are best not considered. The women who choose to accept them? OK. Not really. But I find that my anger benefits no one. Least of all myself. So now, in my 6th decade,I’ll do what feels right for me. I can pray anywhere, anytime. I don’t need to follow a set of archaic rules to be Jewish.

    Reply
  17. Haim Shalom February 20, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Stay strong sister. Good luck

    Reply
  18. Anonymous February 20, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Thank you for writing, for sharing. It’s important to stand up and be counted.

    Reply
  19. abetheh February 21, 2017 at 5:25 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, your story. I wish you the best of luck, with every bit of my heart and soul.

    I’m a guy, and I’m not still trying to pass for frum anymore. I left that behind a while ago. So I can’t at all say that I know how you feel/understand all of what you’re going through. But a lot of what you had to say resonated very deeply with me. Especially your post-structuralist approach to analyzing the frum community in the last paragraph. I think you’re absolutely spot on there. The frum community doesn’t exist in its current form by accident. It’s built the way it is for the benefit of some, and to the detriment of many. And you’ve captured that idea very handily.

    Thank you for your story. And know that you are not alone in this. Be well.

    Reply
  20. adinahbrown February 21, 2017 at 6:24 am

    I relate to everything you’ve written here and I particularly relate to the line “but I don’t believe in people. I don’t believe in the Orthodox social construct that people are living today”. But what I do believe in is meaning, putting that in fact as paramount. What do you do to ensure meaning in your life, if not by the package of meaning, being the community, life, rituals etc that surround you?

    Reply
  21. Yehuda Cohen February 21, 2017 at 7:14 am

    As a man and someone who is respected in the Orthodox community I relate so much to your very accurate description. We are not alone. We are also not living in the shadows. Through my years of living a secret ‘OTD’ life I’ve met quite a few people in our situation who as you said would surprise anyone who ever found out, yet we all share one common struggle: How to balance the reality that we no longer believe the Torah or the lifestyle it promotes is Divine and trying to maintain harmony in the lives we built up for ourselves in that very same Orthodox world. You are so brave for sharing. Your article meant so much to me. Thank you.

    Reply
  22. It's not real Judaism that you're tired of. It's the klipa called Judaism that's got you down. February 23, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    For what it’s worth, I really believe that this sort of thing happens because of a basic and fundamental misunderstanding of what Judaism truly is. Sadly, this misunderstanding pervades the entire system.

    As a baal teshuva, originally a Buddhist, looking in from the outside with a keen interest in spirituality and truly connecting to Gd and Truth, I have observed time and time again that even some of the most devout and frum people I’ve ever met, really, deep down, don’t get what’s really supposed to be happening here.

    We have truly been missing the mark in our collective practice of Torah and mitzvos, and I am not even the least bit surprised that this occurs. In fact I know full well that it occurs, and it is much much more widespread that this article and comments relates.

    All of that said, I would like to put myself out there and make myself available for discussion about the ACTUAL reality of yiddishkeit, for both men and women, because it truly is my belief that when put in the proper context, this wouldn’t really ever happen at all.

    You’re not rejecting Judaism, you’re rejecting a hoax of a shell being dubbed Judaism, selling all of short.

    Reply
    1. It's not real Judaism that you're tired of. It's the klipa called Judaism that's got you down. February 23, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      If you’d like to discuss, my email is yitzmo@gmail.com
      Hatzlachah to you all, mamash.

      Reply
  23. Glatt Some Questions February 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    This is a fascinating account of what might become a greater sociological trend in the Orthodox community. Thank you for sharing your real feelings.

    Reply
  24. JL February 23, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I am posting as an On the Derech Orthodox married man. I understand your struggles, and admire your commitment to keeping your family together. I do need to offer the comment though — you need to differentiate between things that are personal and things that affect others, and you need to be honest about them. Personal laxity on kashruth is one thing — trefiing up dishes in your house affects all those in the house (I know you did not do that). Not attending shul is personal, and many quite frum women do not feel turned on by shul. Not davening, not reciting brachos is one thing — removing children from Jewish education is another thing (again, you did not imply that). That brings us to mikva issues. Not going to the mikva, lying about the going to the mikva (you did not imply that), or pretending to not be able to go to the mikva (you did hit on that one) affect the well-being of your husband and your marriage. Leaving your religious issues aside, you need to be honest with your spouse, and be on the same page with these things — otherwise you are hurting others and damaging your marriage. If you are honest with your husband that you need a break for a while, and he honestly agrees, that’s one thing. Pretending to be spotting when you are not – that’s an entirely different thing, and you are on dangerous grounds with that one. You need to think for yourself — how important is the marriage in the scheme of your life and your struggles. In many cases where one spouse leaves the Derech, the marriage ends, often amicably. In other cases it continues, also amicably. You need to sort this out, and not hurt others, and I sense some hurt being extended to your husband.

    Reply
  25. Annie February 24, 2017 at 12:05 am

    Loved this article!
    Re: FB page off the derech – thx for that / I had no idea.
    If someone knows that admin let them know they can make the group a “secret” instead of a closed group and then until ur in – ur name isn’t known.
    Just food for thought.

    Reply
  26. anon February 25, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Wow, totally totally relate ad agree. Except, On mikva part I decided I’m punishing myself if I dont go. I love sex, who doesn’t? So I look at it as a nice spa to get fresh before sex. Is that so bad? I don’t watch out of all ocd chatzitzos, just basic scrubbing, soaping, trimming. I choose to not be miserable about it.

    Reply
  27. Anonymous February 26, 2017 at 2:18 am

    I am so sad to read that you and so many others are going through such a hard time keeping Mitzvot. We live in a generation that is full of stimulation all around. We are exposed all day to the non frum people and it really does seem like a much easier and fun life. There is no way for any of us to continue feeling connected if we don’t do anything about it. And it is not only in Judiasim, If you are pianist and don’t keep practicing, or being in touch with others in your field, you too will not feel connected to your piano much longer.
    As a frum woman, I always make sure to keep myself inspired, each person is different and different things inspire them. I love learning, so I make sure to learn whenever I have a chance about Emuna, Bitochon, or just some other general Tanach knowledge. I see no other way to stay connected with out doing something to keep it up. Kind of like exercise. When you are in it and are always working out, your body loves how it feels and wants more of it. When you let go, it is hard to push yourself back to the gym…
    I suggest starting out by being around people that inspire you. Try feeling out what you do like about Judiasim and do more of it. I am sure it will make you feel much better, then feeling you are just doing it for show.
    Good luck!

    Reply
  28. Meged March 5, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    There were great rebbetsns in Judaism that use to lie to their hosband about Niddah, tor exemple:
    The wives of Shloime HaMelech,
    Rebetsn Perls of Krule in the 19th century (according to Hungarian Haredim)
    and even fruitfulised and brought children that way.
    During the Middle Ages when the lakes in Europe were frozen, the women in Germany didn’t have Mikva but they use to take a bath or “shefichat 9 kavim”

    Reply

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